WHEN you arrive to interview Sugababes and one of them is nowhere to be seen, your first thought is that she may have followed two previous fixtures of the line-up and quit.
Thankfully, as Heidi Range and ‘new girl’ Amelle Berrabah prepare to answer questions, it’s clear why original Sugababe Keisha Buchanan isn’t present.
“She’s just running a bit late,” says Heidi. “She’ll be here soon, but let’s crack on.”
The girls are on the verge of releasing their fifth album, the first with Amelle, despite the fact she joined the band around two years ago.
“I wasn’t nervous about doing it, I just couldn’t wait to get stuck in,” she says enthusiastically. “I’m a songwriter, like Keisha and Heidi are, so I really wanted to get in there, do some writing and get a couple of things off my chest.
“We’re really happy with the stuff that we have on the album, and it means that bit more to me because I’ve been there from the start this time and we’ve done it all together.”
Only a week into their promo schedule and one newspaper has rehashed an old story that the girls in the band aren’t being nice to the newest member.
Original member Siobhan Donaghy left the band in 2001, amid reports that Keisha and fellow founder Mutya Buena were freezing her out. She was duly replaced by Heidi and the news was once again rife with stories they were bullying the third Babe.
However, they denied there were any rifts and rode the storm. “I didn’t get it at the time, but now I see why people might have thought there was a divide in the group,” says Keisha, while explaining why she was late.
“People would walk into a room, see Heidi dressed in jeans and a belly top, with long blonde hair and really cheery attitude and then see me and Mutya, sitting back with our arms crossed, looking sullen, wearing bandanas and tracksuits, they thought there was a rift.”
Even if there was, it didn’t involve Heidi, as Mutya, who had recently become a mother, was the next to leave.
Amelle was duly unveiled as the new addition, which soon gave the tabloids the perfect excuse to write a story that Amelle was now on the verge of quitting the group thanks to the other two being so cruel to her.
“I was on holiday when that came out,” says Amelle. “Keisha was on holiday too, and Heidi was eating in the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. We were all excited to come back, start a new thing, and then it’s bang, here we go again. It’s strange to us, because we’re in a really good place. We know we get along with each other, and we’re good friends and it’s just weird that it comes up all the time.
“Before I joined the band, I used to think the things that were in the papers were true. I thought that Keisha and Mutya were horrible to Heidi and all the rest of it, but now I’ve joined, I know the truth.”
“It’s just a bit boring,” continues Heidi, who seems to be genuinely hurt from the reappearance of the story. “It’s about the fifth time it’s come out and it’s horrible to start promo for a new album and that be all we’re talking about.”
For the record, the girls do seem happy, and while it might be easy to fake being nice to one another for a few hours at a time, they have a closeness that can’t be put on.
The forthcoming album Change is, as the girls say, their most international-sounding to date. This is due to the record largely being produced by Dallas Austin in his Atlanta studio, a producer who has crafted hits for the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Pink, TLC and Gwen Stefani.
“It didn’t take long really, we didn’t go to Atlanta until April,” says Heidi. “We’ve been in and out of the studio since we came back doing bits and pieces and I’ve got one vocal part to do next week, then it’s finished.”
“Dallas is great, he’s like my big brother or a mentor,” confesses Keisha. “He definitely loves a good party too, so if you like to party and you go there, it’s not necessarily a good thing. We didn’t get any work done until Heidi asked when we were going to start!
“He’s got hundreds of stories about the people he’s worked with. Also, you’ll be in the studio and he’ll say ‘One of my boys is coming over, is that cool?’. Then his ‘boy’ turns up, and it’s Andre 3000 from Outkast, or P Diddy walks into the studio like it’s a normal thing to happen!”
Of the new songs on Change, the girls all agree that Back Down is their favourite. It’s a reggae track with each of the girls describing what they look for in a man. For any lads out there interested, they unsurprisingly like guys who are gentle, smell nice and dress well.
“That was done with a friend of mine called Novel,” says Keisha. “Push The Button was written about him, so it was really cool to work with him. Lyrically, I really like the song Undignified, which was something I was going through a little while back. It’s about being in love with someone who is blatantly no good for you, but you’re willing to put that aside as long as you get them. Don’t worry, I woke up quite quickly from that weird phase, but I can really relate to the song.”
Current single About You Now has been described as a pop masterpiece by various music publications, but for the girls, the video accompanying the song stands out.
Filmed on London’s South Bank by Ken Livingstone’s Mayoral office, the trio were under the impression it would be a closed set like the rest of their shoots.
“It was so embarrassing,” says Heidi with her head in her hands. “Not for one second did I think it was going to be actually ON the South Bank. I was shaking. I get nervous for videos anyway, for the first few takes I’m terrible. You have to stand there looking into a camera, trying to look sexy which is embarrassing anyway, even if it’s only in front of the crew. But we had to do it in front of people commuting to and from work. It was awful!”